May 15, 2009

Saturday, 5/16

Newsday 8:21
NYT 5:31
LAT 3:18
CS 7:30 (J—paper)

Tyler Hinman and Byron Walden's New York Times crossword

This is Tyler and Byron's first joint production, constructed after Tyler moved out to California last year. If you ask me, the puzzle's easier than most of Byron's solo Saturdays. Yes? No?

I learned from the constructors' notes at Jim Horne's Wordplay blog that they started with JAZZ HANDS at 1A, divvied up the fill, and split the clues (Acrosses, Byron; Downs, Tyler). My favorite clues and answers follow, mingled as they so often are with the more Google-prone clues:

  • 1A. That JAZZ HANDS looks great atop the grid, doesn't it? [Exuberant gesture with splayed fingers] describes it well.
  • 18A. [Something gays and straights have in common?] is the LONG A sound.
  • 20A. TERWILLIGER was a gimme for me. That's [Sideshow Bob's last name on "The Simpsons"].
  • 26A. [Like some gems and old movies] aptly clues RECUT.
  • 30A. [Registers, with "in"] is SOAKS. As it happens, SINKS also fits and shares three letters.
  • States! 32A. [Longfellow or Millay, by birth] was a MAINER. 44D NEBRASKA is the [Location of the 44-Down], which is the PLATTE River, or [River facetiously described as "a mile wide at the mouth, but only six inches deep"].
  • 34A. The CATALPA is a [Tree with heart-shaped leaves]. Giant, yellow-green leaves at that. Catalpa's also the name of a street in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood.
  • 47A. It took me a while to understand why [One going steady?] is SHE. "Steady as she goes," goes the phrase.
  • 56A. NED BEATTY gets the full-name treatment. His clue is ["Deliverance"' actor].
  • 48A. [They may be fingered] and 59A [Something pulled out in church] both sound lewd, but they're both about music: CHORDS and an ORGAN STOP, respectively.
  • 1D. JASPER is one [Traditional March birthstone]. My mom prefers the aquamarine.
  • 6D. AW GEE is clued with ["You shouldn't have"], as in "Oh, that's much too generous. You didn't need to get me anything at all."
  • 8D. I started with DOODLES for [Suffers through a boring meeting, maybe], though doodling isn't suffering. The answer's DROWSES.
  • 11D. ELOI, H.G. Wells' Time Machine race who are constantly getting victimized in crosswords, takes a different tack here. ["My God," in Aramaic]. 
  • 12D. [Bars for a cell?] isn't about the hoosegow—it's bars of music for a cellphone, or a RINGTONE.
  • 14D. [Picker-uppers?] are LEARNERS.
  • 21D. Remember yesterday when half of us wanted the animals with the black ear tufts to be LLAMAS and they weren't? In nearly the same part of the grid today, we get our LLAMAS together with an analogy clue: [Foals : horses :: crias : ___]. Who knew the name for a young llama was a cria? A non-crosswording friend of mine has a theory that Will Shortz secretly raises llamas in Pleasantville, but folks who've been to Will's house claim to have seen no Andean mammals there. Did you know the scientific name for the beast is Lama glama?
  • 23D. [Preakness flowers, familiarly] are SUSANS. There are flowers called black-eyed susans. They give those instead of roses at the Preakness?
  • 29D. [Baseball player known as Mr. White Sox] clues MINOSO. Minnie Miñoso is in his 80s now but, as befits an athlete, he looks mighty good for his age. I saw Mr. Miñoso through my cousin's dining room window last Thanksgiving as he walked his dog; he lives in her building. True story: Mr. White Sox lives a half mile from the Cubs' home, Wrigley Field. Mr. Cub (Ernie Banks) lives in California.
  • 31D. [Extra in "Broken Arrow," 1950] is an APACHE. Later in the '50s, the movie turned into a TV series co-starring Michael Ansara as Cochise. ANSARA is half vowels, so he's been in crosswords—and looking up Ansara is the only reason I had any idea what the answer to this clue was.
  • 33D. ["Votre toast," for one] is an ARIA. A paean to your toast? Multigrain toast with butter is often worth singing about.
  • 34D. I may be a medical editor, but I can't say CAT SCANS was a gimme for [Radiodensity indicators].
  • 36D. TAKE FIVE? Yes, please. It's always nice to [Rest] a bit.
  • 37D. HARD EDGE is clued [Like a style of painting with sharply delineated forms]. You there—the one with the art knowledge—can you point me toward an example of this, please?
  • 48D. [Item with a pegbox], 5 letters starting with CE? I plugged in CESTA, the jai alai basket. The CELLO is not my thing. Wikipedia tells me the peg box holds the tuning pegs.
  • 49A. SABAN? Who? [Nick of college football who was twice A.P. Coach of the Year] does not ring a bell. He coaches the Alabama Crimson Tide and makes $4 million a year. Those university types always make the big bucks, don't they?

I liked this puzzle. No deadly crossings, nothing too obscure (except SABAN, who had easy crossings), and hardly any short answers. Did you notice that? Just six 3-letter answers and a dozen 4's. This helps a puzzle avoid that not-so-fresh feeling. So Byron and Tyler, keep working together on more themelesses for us.

Updated Saturday morning:

Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "In a Nut Shell"—Janie's review

"Sometimes you feel like a nut—sometimes you don't," or so say the makers of Peter Paul Almond Joy and Mounds. Thank you, Randall Hartman, for indulging my personal preference. The three themed entries in today's puzzle come to us, as described, in a NUT shell, in which the first two letters of the theme-phrase are NU and the last is T.
  • We're off to an explosive start at 20A with NUCLEAR BLAST [Fallout cause], followed at
  • 37A with NUMBERED ACCOUNT [Swiss bank offering], and ending at
  • 52A with the descriptive NUISANCE SUIT and its equally depictive clue [Ambulance chaser's ploy]
A NICE tight theme with two debut entries (37A and 52A) and a CS debut for 20A.

Some of the usual suspects make an appearance: YMA, IRMA, CHE, Mao TSE-tung; but they're in the company of some very smart fill. And I do mean that in the literal sense: there's CANNY [Street-smart] and GUILE [Cunning] and ACUMEN [Sagacity].

We travel to the Middle East with MECCA [Muslim holy city], ARAB [Dubai denizen] and KABUL [Capital of Afghanistan]. And there's a nod to Middle and Western America, too, as KANSAS and UTE emerge from KABUL. (I'd forgotten just what a bargain the Louisiana Purchase was—and how much of the country's midsection it comprises. Yikes.)

Fill that fouled me up: [Fleur-de-] LYS? No, LIS. [Auction actions] BIDS? No, NODS. [Back problem] SPRAIN? No, STRAIN. I still struggle to keep straight those European rivers. I know the Rhine is German, but I never seem to remember that the RHONE isn't... And veteran character actor M. EMMET Walsh has a lengthy resume, but darned if any performance comes to mind.

Clues that made me think: [Someone in it is out of it] for COMA, and [Beginning of December?] for DEE. This kinda clue gets me almost every time. You'd think by now I'd be less easily duped, but noooooooooo! ;-)

Fave little grid bits: ICED over ACED, the cross of ICON and OCCUR.

And while I knew that GIS were [PX patrons], I'd forgotten what PX stood for. How about you?

Michael Wiesenberg's L.A. Times crossword

My longer write-up is at L.A. Crossword Confidential.

My goodness, it's been a while since I encountered a themeless puzzle that was this easy. Sure, there were a few things that weren't gimmes, but the give-and-take with the crossings made quick work of it all. My favorite fill:

  • 20A. [Like some dads] (STAY-AT-HOME). Terrific, colloquial answer.
  • 28A. [Nutritional regimen since the 1970s] (ATKINS DIET). See above.
  • 31A. [Ich liebe dich : German :: ___ : Spanish] (TE AMO). A college classmate of mine made some sweet thing for his girlfriend that included that phrase. I was fluent in crosswordese and not Spanish, and regular solvers know the amo, amas, amat conjugation of "love"—so I assumed he was writing sweet nothings in Latin. Um, no.
  • 32A. For [Prince classic], I contemplated Prince's greatest hits. "1999," "Little Red Corvette," "Lady Cab Driver," "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry," "I Would Die 4 U" (Prince was way ahead of texting-mad teens with that sort of shorthand)—and also "PURPLE RAIN," the only one of these that has 10 letters. Alas, you won't find Prince videos on YouTube.
  • 40D. [2007 A.L. batting champ Magglio] (ORDONEZ). He's Venezuelan and I love his name.

Sandy Fein's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

I'm feeling much smarter this weekend, having that fast L.A. Times time and finally getting back under the 10-minute mark for a Stumper. (Do yourself a favor and don't check Dan Feyer's times on these puzzles unless you want to feel inferior.)

(PDF solution here.)

My least favorite clue here is [One settling down] for ROOSTER. What the...? Nobody describes "one who roosts" as a "rooster." When ROOSTER is a perfectly good stand-alone word, why on earth would you want to clue it as a lousy "roll-your-own" word?This is not the first time we've seen that in the Stumper. When you already have a roll-your-own CRADLER here, why create another when you don't need to?

MAZATLAN is clued as [Literally, "place of the deer"]. Hmm, is that obscure trivia? Or is it reasonable to expect solvers to have a certain degree of fluency in the Nahuatl language? (Answers: Yes. And hell, no.) The Wikipedia article provides that etymology, but mentions deer nowhere else—so I'm guessing even people who've visited the city wouldn't think to associate it with deer. This clue is akin to the ones that hinge on the meaning of a first name. At least we're spared that sort of clue for DINAH, which instead gets a biblical clue, [Daughter of Jacob]. LOUIES isn't clued as a plural first name; rather, they're [Some officers], short for "lieutenants." The LOOIE and LOOEY spellings are the only ones listed in the Mac widget of the New Oxford American Dictionary.

[Psiloritis is its highest peak] clues CRETE. I wonder if the sun's rays atop Psiloritis are particularly good for psoriasis. Also from Europe: MINSK is the [CIS headquarters]. Speaking of the agglomeration of states that used to be Soviet republics, [Any SSR?] clues RED STATE, but that doesn't strike me as quite kosher. "Red state" doesn't mean communist state, so it's as if the clue concocts a jokey definition of a word. That would work if it were a theme entry, but it's not.

[Dairy designation] is GRADE A. We've probably all bought GRADE A eggs, but grade A milk looks to have zero relevance to the average person who's not a dairy farmer. Is the clue hinging on eggs being sold in the dairy section of some groceries? Because eggs are not dairy products.

I didn't dislike this puzzle while I was solving it, but going through it clue by clue while blogging, I found myself grumbling at several cluing choices. They mark a departure from the Stumper's previous style, and they don't hew to the other themeless styles I'm familiar with (Will Shortz, Peter Gordon, Rich Norris, the CrosSynergy team). A lot of folks are pleased to have an extra-tough puzzle to sink their teeth into on Saturdays, but I find myself wishing the Stumpers had more of a killer Klahn/Walden/Blackard NYT vibe.